The Heatley CliffDo You Want A Spanking?Amy Foster

Despite our lavish surroundings here at the Heatley Cliff, I am not a snob and I am certainly not a prude.

When I heard that Fifty Shades of Grey had outsold Harry Potter, I had to finally read for myself what all the fuss was about. I knew that the author, E.L. James, had started this as a sort of spin off Twilight fanfic and so I had a vague idea what I was getting into. As a writer myself, and a great lover of the minutia, my agent and my editor are always cracking the whip (so to say!) about showing my audience rather than telling them. James has no such qualms. She tells and tells and then turns around and tells some more, which grew increasingly tedious.  The truth? I didn’t mind the Twilight series. I said I wasn’t a snob! What Stephanie Meyer lacks in technical skill she makes up for in imagination. Are they great works of Art with a capital A? Probably not, but at least they are creative. I’m afraid the same can’t be said for James’ work.

I would even go so far as to say that an even greater suspension of disbelief is required to buy what Fifty Shades is selling than its Twilight muse, vampires and all. We are expected to believe that the most beautiful man on earth is not only a billionaire who employs over 40,000 people, a genius but also under 30. We are also expected to believe that the female lead in the book is pretty but not gorgeous, a virgin, does not own a cell phone, a computer or even have an email account as a 22-year-old college student. When Ana, said “heroine”, admits to Grey that she has never been with a man, the God-like, bondage only protagonist deigns to deflower her. We are lead to believe that this is some sort of favor, as he’s never had ‘vanilla’ sex before, but he’s willing to stoop to her mortal level. Yep, this smart cookie just gave up one of the most precious things she has so that fetish guy can skip to the good stuff.

We are told, explicitly, that he was adopted, he was abused as a child, he doesn’t feel deserving of love and Ana wants, in her words, “to bring him into the light.” Well, that’s an age old story even minus the riding crops. And while we’re on the subject of explicit, let me just say this – I have read far more sensual and sexually explicit material that was FAR more interesting.

But look, hey, good on you E.L James. I mean it. You’ve written a runaway smash success and very few authors can say the same. You have my respect. It’s just, I don’t get it. Why do people love this book so much? What is it that resonates so deeply? I had heard it called Mom Porn over and over again and thought nothing of it, really, but then after doing a bit of musing of my own, I got it. Or rather, I got a working theory. Full disclosure, I wouldn’t call myself a feminist; Camille Paglia I’m not. But I am, however, a mom.

Here are my days: I get up early; I have a 2-year-old. I feed him breakfast. In the school year, I then get my other two up. Let the games begin! Even the ones old enough to dress themselves want to know what to wear, so I tell them. Then I tell them what their schedule is for after school. During the day I am working, writing, making choices about the house, my career, cleaning out the fridge, what to feed everyone. The kids get home and I’m after them to do their homework. I make dinner. They complain a lot. I called this post Do You Want A Spanking?  because Christian Grey isn’t the only disciplinarian in town. Sometimes I have to be the bad guy, which I can’t stand but the kids need. I love my husband. I adore him, really. But it would never occur to him to make sure there are always clean sheets on the guest bed or to actually lift something up on the kitchen counter so as to clean under it.

As a mother and a wife, I am responsible for the majority of the details and plans and organizing that make our home run. I am the grown up. Always. And here is where I think that Fifty Shades has so captivated the moms who have read it: Here is some billionaire rich guy. He is going to take over. You don’t have to worry about what to eat, as he provides you with a menu. Clothes? He shops for you. Working out? He gives you a personal trainer. Christian Grey is a control freak (and possibly a sociopath), but for a busy mom who makes a thousand decisions a day, that fantasy of not having to decide anything is seductive, indeed. It sounds crazy, right? I’m a modern woman! Nobody tells me what to do! But it is so hard being a mom, being in charge all the time. You might as well just admit that you’re weak, personality-less, submissive.

Of course, there’s the whole Electra complex thing going on, and various other daddy issues too thrown in for good measure. But I really don’t know how much of the fascination for this book is about the actual sex, which as I said is rough and all, but not that interesting. Grey really doesn’t have that creative of a potty mouth. It’s very much about surrender and the notion that someone is going to look after me for a change. This doesn’t make me weak or submissive, it makes me tired, unappreciated and quite frankly, shackled already. Moms can’t just bail. They can’t just spontaneously decide to go to Paris, or spend a weekend alone with their husbands, not when dinner out feels like a miracle. In the context of their sex life, Ana’s hands are tied, literally. In the context of a full time mom, metaphorically, her hands are always tied with very little of the hot sexy sexy time that Ana seems to enjoy multiple times a day. When it comes down to it, even those younger women who aren’t moms but who are faced with so many choices about who they want to be and where they are going would be drawn on some level to a relationship where the pressure is off. It seems counter-intuitive, Mad Men backwards. But it also harkens back to a time not so long ago when that young woman was taken care of and every decision they made was, in the larger scope of things, trivial. So while I can say that Fifty Shades Of Grey didn’t really speak to me, at least now I think I get why it has been embraced by so many.

If erotica appeals to you as a genre, might I suggest Ann Rice’s Beauty series, or my fave, the ever provocatively beautiful writing of Anais Nin? Truthfully, I find Nora Roberts more of a turn on on that E.L. James, and not nearly as vanilla as you might think.

This week week at the The Heatley Cliff, we aren’t doing much talking about bondage. Sorry. But we are discussing the whiplash lines of Alphonse Mucha and the rise of Art Nouveau. Stimulating indeed!

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  1. I disagree with only one statement in this essay – “I wouldn’t call myself a feminist”

    You write like a feminist – It’s not a bad word. You don’t need to be Camille Paglia (or Andrea Dworkin, on the other end of the spectrmm) to be a feminist! On all other counts, however, I agree wholeheartedly. The message that this book and its inspiration, Twilight, sends to young women makes me sick to my stomach. I think it only serves to make young women feel ashamed of their sexual pasts… well guess what? You can be sexually free and experienced like the male protgonists of these novels, too.

    I am just sick to death of these virginal, butter-wouldn’t melt heroines. Give me a female protagonist who knows what she wants, and doesn’t need to be told what she wants by her dreamy-eyed ‘love interest.’ That’s not a basis for a healthy relationship – sexual or otherwise.

  2. I really don’t know why this book (or series of books) is so popular! is not the first book in this genre, why the obsession with this one?, just because it came from Twilight? I can’t believe some people read this in public!

  3. I have read all three books and I have no idea WHY!? I thought they were terribly written but something kept me reading. I skipped the sex scenes too after a while (they were even less creatively written than the rest of the book), and actually felt angry every time I saw the words ‘my subconscious screamed/said/shouted at me’ – the subconscious does not scream, it whispers just loud enough so we do what it says, but not so we know we actually heard it! Urgh! (I’m not even a psychology student, I did literature…). Anyway, the ‘heroine’ can’t even be called such. And what is with everyone on facebook/twitter raving on about how much they want their own Mr. Grey?! Yes, he’s hot, but he also wants to beat women. NO THANKS.

  4. I agree with everything you said. I did not get this book at all. I didn’t think it was well written and the heroine got on my nerves. I don’t understand how this book got so popular. I’m no mommy but as a single 3o y.o I was put off by everything in this story.

  5. Kind of off topic, but I agree that Stephenie Meyer has a great imagination. While I don’t love the message of Twilight, it was entertaining. And, I loved The Host. I can’t wait for the movie adaptation ndxt year.

  6. I would like to thank Amy for putting into words what I have been thinking since the beginning of this series. It is amazing that prior to this series, I have not see a woman reading this type of book on the Metro or in a Doctor’s office, like I have seen with this book. I walked through Target to find it on the shelf within reach of teens/children, which completely blew me away. So what makes this series okay? Popularity = Acceptance?
    I will be honest and say that I started reading this novel to see “what the fuss was all about,” but haven’t finished the first book. At first I thought this novel was going to be like other chic lit romance novels that I constantly read, but was unhappily surprised when the story line entered into the bondage room. Up until then, it seemed like the beginning of a good sexy romance novel. I am not saying that I haven’t read a chic lit novel with bondage, I am simply stating that I felt the story made a drastic leap from lovey-dovey to bondage in a couple of pages. I find it difficult to envision this scenario. Maybe it is difficult because I can relate with Ana, but to me there is a big difference between escaping into a book to live vicariously through a character you relate to and reading a story that makes you feel like you are a voyeur because you can’t imagine yourself in any characters shoes. I have a huge imagination but reading a book when you can’t relate to the heroine or worse can relate to her up until the part she is whisked away to a place such as in this story.
    The other confounding issue I personally have is reading that Christian is the dominant. I always thought that it is usually the powerful bosses, head of corporations that become the submissive. Correct me if I am wrong, but isn’t the whole thought process in role play to allow a person to switch from theirs daily roles. I thought role play was to allow day-to-day corporate decision maker to give up decision making. It isn’t really role playing since Christian is a stern, hard ass boss everyday. Maybe I am naive or maybe it is just that I can’t imagine being with a man that is a dominant all of the time. So I think that when I finally read the rest of it, I will go into a voyeur type of reading because I cannot live vicariously through this novel, but Hey! maybe my opinion will change.
    I will end by saying that I am so glad you mention Nora Roberts, her writing is enjoyable to read and quite provocative without the whips and chains. Nora Roberts allows her readers a realistic escape into a world of steamy romance. Most importantly her readers can live vicariously through the story line without much struggle despite some including magic or other worldly entities.

  7. Amen. Sharing this so hard you might experience some dizziness.

  8. I completely agree with you. I read all three books and when I was half way through the second book, I was skimming over or completely skipping the sex scenes. Not only do they become repetitive but you’re right they do become a little boring. I adore the Christian character become he is this imaginary man who does anything AND everything for Ana at any time of day. Practically anything she could ever want or need, he takes care of for her and wants to! That’s what I believe is so appealing about him.